It took a couple episodes and a well-timed flashback, but Better Call Saul is beginning to show what it has in store to separate it from the meth empire it is spun off from. While it’s not a perfect episode, it provides an interesting premise and several ways to test Jimmy McGill’s moral standing, as well as his true dedication as an attorney instead of a criminal. Read on for our full Better Call Saul review.
The episode begins with a flashback to when James was in the heat of his “Slippin’ Jimmy” days. Seeing Chuck McGill – prior to becoming the paranoid hermit that he is in current day Better Call Saul – interacting with his brother Jimmy does a great job to frame the events of this particular episode, and perhaps the series in general. I always thought that starting the series with a flash forward to Saul Goodman post-Breaking Bad was an odd decision. Thinking of Jimmy McGill as the Saul Goodman we knew from five seasons of that show do nothing for this one – the further McGill can start away from being the smooth talking Saul Goodman the better. Seeing just what his life was like prior to Better Call Saul, and the strained life with his family is a much better frame of reference than seeing him sweeping a Cinnabon however many years later.
We also see a different plot structure for the show in this week’s episode. Being that McGill is a lawyer, there are going to be some one-off stories as he does his day-to-day job in between slowly becoming the sleazy lawyer we eventually know. How Better Call Saul handles these cases, as in whether they flow together well or become procedural waste, is going to dictate just how good it can be going forward. The basic ideas of “Nacho” and defending the insane (but ultimately innocent) killer is handled well for the most part, but it is definitely not without its faults.
One of the biggest draws of Breaking Bad, and what everyone hopes for Better Call Saul, was its ability to keep the seams of the plot hidden. When Vince Gilligan is at his best, you will never feel like you’re watching a story or television show, you will be living in a world. There were a few moments in “Nacho” where those seams began to show, mostly revolving around some obvious plot conveniences. Saul’s car conveniently not starting when the police officers were closing in, a gate just happening to be open when he was searching for the family, and others all frequently took me out of the story.
Along with some weird plot points, Saul’s old flame (I think?) Kim Wexler is generally a pretty bland character, and it doesn’t help that Rhea Seehorn turns in a terribly stiff performance. Every line is delivered as if being read off of a teleprompter, and seeing her interact with Bob Odenkirk was painful. All of the charm and personality that Odenkirk exudes in his performance as James McGill get sucked out of the air whenever Seehorn delivers her lines on rails. She is, unfortunately, earmarked to star in several more episodes but one can only hope she won’t play a major part going forward.
Where “Nacho” excels is in several specifically fantastic moments, starting with James confronting the District Attorney while he’s on the toilet. It’s a small moment, but McGills tenacity resulting from a minor meltdown and subsequent explosion is a look into the future of where his character is going. Saul Goodman is the guy that will follow you in the bathroom stall if it means getting the result he needs for his client, and that’s something this scene gets across perfectly. James and Mike interacting at the toll booth was especially great this episode as well. That first look teaser that we got months back finally found its way into an episode, and it’s even more effective in context.
It comes late in the episode, but the biggest highlight is Goodman popping into the Kettleman’s tent. I can’t think of anyone who could have pulled that off better than Bob Odenkirk, and i can only hope more of that is coming down the road.
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